Capture the Flag › II: Variations

II: Variations

A boy plays glow in the dark Capture the Flag on a beach.

Capture the Flag is a classic outdoor game that has been a neighborhood favorite for decades, but many variations exist. The game is traditionally played with two teams and two flags. The basic concept of Capture the Flag is defending your territory while invading the enemy team’s turf. To win, you must steal their flag and return with it to your side of the field. You must avoid being captured and sent to jail along the way. 

But what if you’ve grown tired of playing the same old way? The following variations of Capture the Flag add twists and turns to the rules and tactics. Check out these exciting and fresh new ways to play this classic game.


If you have over 10 players for your game of Capture the Flag, you might consider playing with multiple flags. Each team can have three, four or more flags – just make sure they are all color-coded to match each team. Then, the other team has to find all of them to win. More players get in on the action of hunting down flags and the game lasts longer. You can even add in the option of stealing back your own team’s flags!


There is a way to play Capture the Flag with only one flag. Some people refer to this as  “neutral base” Capture the Flag. This variation involves having the flag in the middle of the field. Each team tries to get it back to their specified home base. This often turns into a big tug-of-war as the flag often moves only inches at a time. This fun variation of Capture the Flag is a war of attrition, so be ready for a long battle.


Why stop at two teams? All you need to do to play with three or four teams is divide the playing field up into thirds or fourths. Be warned: this variation is chaos! Teams will be attacking from all directions, but if you can embrace the chaos, it only makes for more added fun. Some game kits provide easy ways to differentiate teams like the Team Red kit available from Starlux Games. When combined with the original Capture the Flag REDUX, you can create an epic 3-team showdown with a green, blue and red team.


Another way to mix things up is to make the flag throwable by simply using a ball for the flag. It could be a football, tennis ball, soccer ball, or any kind of ball that is easy to grab. Once a team member grabs the ball-flag they can throw it to their teammates. This can make the game faster and more exciting. One thing to note: the players cannot throw the ball-flag all the way over the line to their own territory.


Several creative variations of Capture the Flag involve giving the players specialized playing roles including: 

  • Ninjas
  • Angels
  • The Enforcer
  • Werewolves vs. Hunters
  • The Renegade
  • The Traitor

If you have an extra-large group with a wide variety of ages, then playing “Ninjas” is the ideal variation. Choose a few younger players on each team to be the Ninjas. These players sneak onto the other team’s base without getting caught and sent to jail. It allows them to hunt for the flag while their other team members continue the game.

Another variation is called “Angels” and includes designating one angel player on each team. Instead of teammates going to jail when they get caught, they freeze in place like in Freeze Tag. Only the Angel can revive them by tagging them and unfreezing them. Once the Angel is tagged, no more players can be revived for the rest of the game.

If you have an odd number of players, you could name one player as “The Enforcer.” This person is not on a team but can send anyone to jail at random. This person can act as a referee who enforces rules, random team fate, or handicapping a team that is dominating everyone. It’s really up to the players to decide before the game starts what powers The Enforcer has.

If you want to play one person versus everyone else, then “Werewolves vs Hunters”:is the perfect variation. The Werewolf hides the flag in his own territory. After it is hid, he or she howls and the Hunters begin their search for the flag. As they sneak onto the Werewolf’s territory, the Werewolf can chase and tag them. Once they are tagged, they turn into Werewolves and start hunting other players. The first person to find the flag without being turned into a Werewolf is the winner.


To play the “Renegade” variation, use the jail markers to create a large barrier around the flag.  No one can enter this area until the Renegade does.  Once he or she enters this territory, then everyone else can enter and chase the Renegade to tag him. The Renegade wins by capturing the flag in the middle. If the Renegade is tagged first, then the person who tagged him or her is the winner.

For the “Traitor” variation, you need an objective outsider to secretly name one person a traitor on each team. That Traitor can change sides at anytime so you have to watch your back. They can be hunting a flag for their original team one minute, and then decide to turn traitor and tag their own teammate the next.

Playing Capture the Flag with specialized character roles is really only limited by your imagination. You can play Superheroes vs Villains or Witches vs Wizards and give the teams different powers. Or, players can actually dress up in costumes to play. Wearing black ninja clothes or glow-in-the-dark gear can make a CTF game even more thrilling, especially if you are playing at night.


One of the best things about Capture the Flag is that you can play it anywhere you have a good deal of space. An outside playing field is perfect, especially if you have trees or interesting places to hide. If you’re in a unique setting like on a beach or on a snowy field, you can adapt the rules to fit whatever space you have. Just divide the space into two equal territories and then designate a smaller space on each side for each team’s jail. Ideas for new locations include:

  • In a pool
  • At a lake
  • In the snow
  • In a gym
  • At the beach


If it’s hot enough outside and you are near a beach, lake or pool, then there are water variations of Capture the Flag that can be the perfect addition to a hot summer day. You can play by searching for the flags underwater or have players sit in floats and search for floating flags on top of the water. In a lake, you could even play with kayaks or paddle boards. Another wet ‘n’ wild variation is using water balloons instead of tagging players. Get hit with a water balloon, and then go to jail, soaked.

If it’s cold and snowy out, then bundle up and play your Capture the Flag game in the snow drifts. Some kits, like Capture the Flag REDUX, are made for glow-in-the-dark nighttime fun even in the snow. It’s the classic Capture the Flag game revolutionized with futuristic glow-in-the-dark lights. Set the glowing jail markers on a snowy playing field and watch as players break teammates out of jail, sneak into enemy territory, protect the base and steal the glowing flag to win. Teams can even make snow forts as part of their territory or hide the glowing flag in the snow drifts.


If you don’t have outdoor space or the weather is questionable, you can play CTF indoors, like inside a school gym or recreation center. You can also look into renting out indoor soccer fields or sports complexes. Just make sure to gauge that the room will have enough space to run. If you are inside a gym or recreation center, you could use masking tape or duct tape to section off your boundaries and jails. If you are finding it hard to find a space that has enough running room, consider involving more strategy and hiding than actual running. You could also consider playing each game in slow motion or limiting running to speed-walking.


Capture the Flag is easily adapted for individuals who have physical disabilities. Keep everyone involved in your next game, regardless of their mobility. Try “The Wizard” as a variation. This is perfect if you have a player who wants to play but may not be able to.  A wizard is selected who is unbiased on which team wins.  The Wizard has the power to yell “FREEZE” at any time which will make all players freeze in place.  The wizard can then move players anywhere on the field for one minute before yelling “UNFREEZE” and continuing the game.

Another fun Capture the Flag variation is for players of all levels and abilities, including those in wheelchairs. You just need an open, flat space like a school gym or empty parking lot where the wheelchairs can be mobile. Set up cones around the playing field with small balls placed on top of them. Then, divide into two teams and give each team a kickball to pass. One team maneuvers around and throws their kickball to knock the small balls off of the cones, “capturing the flag,” without getting hit by a defensive team ball. Meanwhile, the defending team uses their kickball to try and hit the opposing team and defend the treasure. One small ball must be replaced on a cone each time someone from the capturing team is hit with a playground ball. When all small balls are knocked off the cones, the capturing team wins the game.


Combine Capture the Flag with other games to create epic variations! For a truly raucous game of Capture the Flag, consider adding paintball guns. By mixing the modern flair of paintball with the traditional fun of CTF, you can create an epic gamer concoction players are sure to never forget. This variation is great for teens and adults. The game is played the same way except now you can get tagged by a paintball gun instead of players. You go to jail when you get hit by one paintball. Get hit by two paintballs, and you are out of the game. Players are required to wear protective gear just like in regular paintball.

Another recent twist on Capture the Flag is a cyber version that actually started as a training game for security officials. The premise is quite similar to the original game but with an entirely cyber application. Two cyber security teams set up “flags” – which can be files, folders, images, etc. – hidden within their computers. Then both teams come together, and they must hack into the other side’s system to collect all of the flags. At the same time, they must defend their network from getting hacked by the other side.

In addition, the premise of Capture the Flag has had widespread influence in the video gaming world. Although the rules differ across gaming platforms, the basic objectives are the same. Teams compete against each other to infiltrate the opposing team’s base, capture their flag and return home without being caught by the other team. The combination of individual skill and team strategy creates a certain appeal to video game players and designers that has led to the inclusion of Capture the Flag game modes in many recent video games. These CTF video games create a unique social experience that allows video gamers to not only play against other individuals but to actively strategize with them to win the game.

These are only the beginning. There are endless Capture the Flag variations to explore and enjoy!

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